For most of Yorktown’s opponents, the game plan to slow down the Patriots starts in the backfield with No. 6. M.J. Stewart’s ability to hurt defenses in multiple ways often results in teams stacking the box or making other adjustments to thwart the senior All-Met running back, who has piled up 1,266 yards and 22 touchdowns this year.
But the strategy for Chantilly, which travels to Yorktown for Friday’s out-of-district matchup, will likely look a bit different with Stewart on the mend. The North Carolina recruit sprained his ankle in last week’s win against Wakefield and has not practiced all week. Patriots Coach Bruce Hanson said Stewart will be a game-time decision but as of Thursday morning, his chances of playing were doubtful.
Not having Stewart’s services is far from ideal, but as the Patriots found out last week when he went down in the first half, Stewart isn’t the only weapon at Yorktown’s disposal. Greg Dalzell helped step in for Stewart with two rushing touchdowns while Parker Dean and Parker Denny caught three passes each during one of the Patriots’ most productive games through the air.
“Other guys just have to step up and everyone has to do their job, and that’s our motto at Yorktown,” said quarterback Will Roebuck, who has thrown for 461 yards and five scores with just one interception. “I’m not going to try to be a superhero. Of course, we might pass more, but the goal remains the same, and that’s to get first downs and move the chains.”
With three games remaining in the regular season, Friday’s contest offers a potential gauge for the Patriots in advance of the playoffs. Chantilly marks the third of four Class 6A opponents on Yorktown’s schedule, providing a glimpse of the bigger, physical competition it could face down the line.
The Chargers, a perennial power, have put up an average of nearly 35 points behind an array of athletes, led by wide receiver/cornerback Raeshawn Smith and running backs Deandre Harris and David Kerns.
“[Class] 6 is new territory for us after playing in Division 5 before, so we have to rise up to that level,” Hanson said. “We can’t use any excuses. If M.J. doesn’t play, we’re not going to crawl up and die. We’ll just have to adjust, depend on some more of our talent and who knows, maybe throw in some trick plays out there.”
For the first two years that Ayvn Johnson played on the Robinson football team, most of his time was spent avoiding oncoming tacklers with his dual-threat ability at quarterback. With these skills, Johnson secured the starting position under center as just a sophomore and appeared to be on his way to success. But apparently, Johnson’s body had other plans.
“I got chunky,” the senior recalled with a laugh. “I just got too big in the weight room, I guess, and my quarterbacking days were over.”
Johnson estimates he gained about 25 pounds over the next couple years, leading Robinson’s coaches to move the 220-pounder to fullback to take on those same defenders he once tried to avoid. With Johnson leading the way, Joe Wilson put together a tremendous junior season, rushing for and area-best 2,358 yards and 33 touchdowns. But when Wilson went down with a high ankle sprain in this year’s season opener, Johnson was called back into the fray as an integral part of the Rams’ offense.
Since then, Johnson has rushed for a team-high 801 yards and nine touchdowns. And even when Wilson returned four games ago, Johnson’s role as the bruiser in Robinson’s backfield has remained strong. With the exception of last week’s 14-13 loss to No. 12 Westfield, either Johnson or Wilson has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game. In the Oct. 4 win against Lee, the two combined for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
“Joe is such a great running back and we all look up to him, so with him going down, I knew personally that I had to fill his role as best I could,” Johnson said. “None of it would be possible without our offensive line, though. They make holes that anyone can run through.”
“Avyn hits the hole hard and almost always gets positive yards with how strong he runs,” said Wilson, who has totaled 553 yards and six scores. “It’s nice to have a good fullback to get those tough yards and step up when we need him.”
The Rams (5-2) will need a continued strong effort from both Johnson and Wilson as they enter the home stretch of the regular season. Friday’s home finale against Oakton is followed by road games against Chantilly and No. 2 Centreville.